I am truly humbled to have been asked to write about my experiences during this COVID-19 pandemic. The only thing I ask is to bear with me as it’s been some time since I’ve written anything like this.
Just some quick background information: I’m 29 years old and I’m from Thousand Oaks, Calif., which is about 45 minutes northwest of downtown Los Angeles. I’m a firefighter paramedic with the Burbank Fire Department in Los Angeles County, and I have been working in EMS (emergency medical services) for about five years. Prior to my employment here in Burbank, I took a shot at professional golf, earning conditional status on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada after graduating from Cal State University at Northridge.
After chasing my dream for a little over a year, I decided it was time to chase my original goal of becoming a firefighter, following in the footsteps of my dad, uncle, and grandpa. I was hired by the city of Burbank in 2016 and since regaining my amateur status in 2017, I’ve been fortunate enough to find some balance between working 48-hour shifts and hitting the links. I’ve been able to play in a few USGA events, and even made a run to the semifinals of the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club. But enough about me, let’s talk about what has been on everyone’s TV, newspaper and minds for the last three months.
When COVID-19 initially hit the U.S., our fire department didn’t really know what to expect. In the early months, we began hearing stories of hospitals and 911 systems being overwhelmed, not to mention the fact that FDNY hadn’t seen their call volume that high since Sept. 11, 2001. We were expecting and preparing for the worst. Being that we’re in the second-largest city in the country, we believed that it was only a matter of time before the COVID-19 wave would makes its way through our city.
Just as most governments had done, early on our city and fire department shut down all non-essential tasks and encouraged social distancing. We would no longer be allowing visitors to the station: no tours or community education. Apartment and business fire inspections were postponed and station gyms were closed. Meetings and training sessions were canceled or done via Zoom. Our temperatures were taken twice a day. We kept our uniforms and boots out of the station and near the apparatus. We decontaminated the station, work areas, engines, trucks and ambulances multiple times each shift for ourselves, our fellow crew members and our patients. Our workdays became focused on running calls and staying healthy. All of this has continued into the first week of June.
As far as our call volume, it was eerily slow when the initial stay-at-home order was issued by our governor. Our days of running 10-20 emergency calls turned into four or five max. Not only did we initially not get the surge of COVID-19 patients that we had prepared for, but the number of patients having heart attacks, strokes, diabetic emergencies, etc., seemed to just disappear. This made all of us wonder: Did the stay-at-home order actually work?